The irony of a slasher film set around a lakeside cabin and being released on Friday the 13th should not be lost on horror fans. Even though Sick, the latest outing from horror icon Kevin Williamson, does not feature the murderous hockey mask-wearing son of Mrs. Voorhees, it is still an adrenaline-filled, gutsy, and brilliantly-paced flick that offers enough caustic wit and slasher thrills that fans have come to expect from Williamson.

Set amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and directed by John Hyams (the man behind the underrated Alone (2020)), Sick is another winning entry amidst the slasher revival that began in the preceding decade.

Before the film opens, the opening title cards already ground the narrative in a specific moment in time—April 3, 2020. COVID had evolved from being just an international conspiracy to spreading its tentacles all around the world. In the USA, where the film is set, most states had already imposed stay-at-home orders.

The opening scene of the film follows Tyler (Joel Courtney), an everyday college frat guy, shopping at a supermarket aisle. If one is familiar with Williamson’s slasher book, we know that the film is heading towards an opening kill scene. But preceding the carnage, the script (written jointly by Kevin Williamson and Katelyn Crabb) cleverly grounds itself amidst the paranoia prevalent during the early days of the pandemic.

Whether it be Tyler’s rush to pick up the last daily essentials at the supermarket or sneering suspiciously at a person coughing behind him at the billing queue—Williamson holds up a somewhat satirical mirror to our fears regarding an unknown virus. Just as he is shopping, Tyler receives a text message from an unknown number (a wink for the Scream fans) that asks, “Wanna party?” While Tyler is initially excited by the prospect promised in the message, his enthusiasm soon dissipates when his anonymous messenger becomes more stalker-like.

A nervous Tyler hurriedly heads back to his dorm room, where a surprise awaits him. To state the obvious, things don’t end well with Tyler as he is attacked by a balaclava-donning killer (perhaps a homage to a similarly masked killer in the original Prom Night). The film then cuts to the next day, where we are introduced to our protagonists Parker (Gideon Adlon) and her BFF Miri (Bethlehem Million)—two college students who are headed off to a cabin owned by Parker’s family following their university’s closure.

What could be better than quarantining amidst a lakeside house? “A quarantine in style,” Parker proclaims to an extra-cautious Miri. In contrast to her germophobic and mindful friend, Parker is more frivolous and reckless, which often earns her the irk of Miri. But they have little to worry about COVID when they arrive at the isolated lake house—Parker reassures Miri that the nearest neighbor is two miles away.

Just as they are basking in the sun, Parker receives an anonymous text from a stranger. Could it be the mysterious guy, Benji (Logan Murphy), with whom Parker had made out a while ago? When the text messages get creepier, Parker wisely blocks the number and resumes her merriment with Miri.

The duo’s evening of solitude is, however, interrupted by the arrival of DJ (Dylan Sprayberry), Parker’s on-and-off boyfriend, who is here to set things right with her. But as the night darkens, Parker and Miri soon realize that DJ might not be the only killjoy this evening as another uninvited guest intrudes inside their lake house.

Around the thirty-nine-minute mark, after Sick is done introducing its characters and setting, it transforms into a relentless slasher film that refuses to calm down. This might become a drudge in less competent hands, but director John Hyams infuses such kinetic energy into his nail-biting chase sequences that none of it feels monotonous.

Sick Review 2023

Even the familiar set pieces of a chase on the rooftop of the house (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers) and along a wooden pier (Us) feel extremely tensed, thanks largely to the deft editing by Andrew Drazek. Hyams’s shots, while not overtly long takes, give the feel of a seamless scene which creates a sense of urgency and exacerbates the tension. In an interview with Collider, Hyams talked about grounding his film in naturalism to make our protagonist’s dangerous situations more palpable.

This is further achieved by the brilliant casting of Adlon and Million, who infuse their characters with a believable survivalist instinct to combat their attacker. A film with a minimal cast must rely heavily on its characters to convey the fearful menace, and Adlon and Million live more than up to this task.

Williamson’s final girls are never virtuous or perfect, and Parker is no exception, as is evident by her tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend and her disinterest in following COVID protocols. But it is ultimately the flawed personality of his heroines that make them more human and worth rooting for—Parker’s heroic resistance and fight against her assailant is likely to get some cheers from the audience.

A slasher film cannot be memorable without a masked murderer, and while the knife-wielding assailant of Sick will not likely gain status in the horror hall of fame, this sneaky and nimble-footed killer is one of the more menacing figures in recent slasher history. Amalgamating the teasing and opportunistic nature of both Ghostface as well as Michael Myers with the ruthless persona of Jason Vorhees, this ski-mask-wearing psychopath is as brutal and unforgiving as his forefathers.

In a clever homage to Bryan Bertino’s The Strangers (2008), there is even a scene where the killer quietly sneaks behind our protagonist, quietly watching her before disappearing. But unlike the nihilistic trio in The Strangers, the killer here is not without a purpose—the motive is gradually revealed in the film’s final act, which again bears marks of Williamson’s signature satire.

Most slasher fans would likely tune in to watch Sick so that they can once again relive Williamson’s meta-deconstruction of the genre that he pioneered with the ground-breaking Scream (1996). But personally speaking, this would be a fatal mistake and probably piss off audiences anticipating more than a tightly-scripted slasher.

This is not to say that the film is without its commentary on the pandemic. Williamson and fellow co-writer Crabb infuse their script to reflect our apprehensions about social distancing and following government mandates. In an especially hilarious sequence (given in the trailer), Parker, who is escaping from her attacker, is refused help by a woman driver on the road just because Parker is not wearing a mask.

Williamson aptly reflects the fear of a world where a virus (and the paranoia around it) would surely kill you even if you escape from a knife-wielding maniac. Despite this, such a commentary is mostly sparse (it does not form part of the main narrative until the final act), and fans of Williamson hoping for a cleverer reimagining of a pandemic slasher would likely be a bit disappointed.

Consider this more I Know What You Did Last Summer territory than Scream, and your enjoyment of Sick would mostly depend on how you view either of those films. Sick is certainly not the first thriller flick to capitalize on the pandemic (Host, Kimi, and Dashcam also have setups that involve the pandemic and home quarantine).

Despite this, the film has enough to comment on our fears, sense of individual responsibility, and blame culture. This commentary might again be divisive, but those used to Williamson’s brand of campy wit would surely appreciate his deconstruction of our pandemic paranoia. And if you care about watching a short and mean-spirited thriller, then the heart-pounding tension in Sick is definitely a killer!

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Sick (2023) Trailer

Sick (2023) Links: IMDb, Wikipedia
Sick (2023) Cast: Marc Menchaca, Jane Adams, Gideon Adlon
Where to watch Sick

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